Orcas Island spirit celebrated in new Eastsound eatery Gertie’s | Paid column

By Josh Kerns

Northwest News Service

Owning and operating a nationally renowned restaurant drawing diners from all over the country was the last thing Orcas Islanders Tara Anderson and her husband Michael Cleveland envisioned when they started a restaurant project in Eastsound at the peak of the pandemic. The project that evolved into Matia Kitchen and Bar ended when creative and business disagreements led them to part ways with their culinary partners. Anderson admits it was a big disappointment.

“We have always been dedicated to making a difference in our community, first with The Barnacle and then Matia. And the artistic expression of our collective visions accomplished far more than we had imagined.”

Anderson and Cleveland are more than keeping that spirit alive with their new restaurant Gertie’s, which recently opened in the historic Our House building that was previously home to Matia. “Gertie’s is a very different experience,” Cleveland says. “We returned to our vision of a neighborhood restaurant. The focus, for now, is on breakfast, brunch, and happy hour.”

Anderson says the goal is to bring a new, comforting and inclusive experience to Orcas Island.

“Our local team of industry professionals is cooking up fun and comforting New American dishes incorporating regional ingredients. We want Gertie’s to be the Eastsound gathering place where locals and visitors feel at home, whether for a cup of craft coffee and freshly baked sourdough toast by the fireplace or enjoying our melt-in-your-mouth Lum Farm lamb sliders on the patio.”

Anderson admits she and her family have had to make a lot of financial and personal sacrifices over the years to make their dreams a reality, personally and professionally. They’re the antithesis of deep-pocketed investor types. Anderson has worked for years in the community while juggling the restaurant business and being a mom to her two Orcas Island High School kids. She recently left her job with the local affordable housing non-profit OPAL Community Land Trust to focus on the family business. Her husband works construction as a heavy equipment operator for a local company — when he’s not doing triple duty overseeing maintenance, tenant improvements, and keeping all the equipment running for their businesses, along with taking care of their kids.

It’s truly a family affair. Their son Tommy is a senior at Orcas Island High School, daughter Chloe a freshman. While accomplished athletes and dedicated students, both also work weekends at Gertie’s to help out.

“It’s exhausting, but worth it,” Anderson says. “We feel it’s our duty to step up and create the community we want to live in. That’s the Orcas way. We don’t fear hard work and doing all we can for others, whether during my time as a soldier in the Army or on one of the non-profit boards Michael and I serve. That’s why we steward The Barnacle, and why we opened a restaurant in the middle of the pandemic. Orcas needs to continue to offer great food and care for our service industry staff,” she says.

But despite all the accolades and accomplishments, it’s about the future, not the past for the couple. They’ve assembled another all-star team at Gertie’s. Anderson says none of it would be possible without local chef and restaurant pro Stephanie “Stevie” Wright joining them and quickly bringing it to life. Shawna Hanan, owner of Luna’s Café and a locally celebrated baker, is cooking up her specialties in the kitchen as well.

“I’m deeply grateful so be part of this remarkable coming together of incredible, talented women to launch Gertie’s. The endeavor feels touched by island magic.”

That female-driven spirit and Island history are the inspiration for Gertie’s. Island transplant Gertrude Turner and her husband turned the historic 1889 building into a café and boarding house in the 1930’s. “Our House” became well known for chicken dinner fundraisers and as a warm, welcoming gathering place.

“We want Gertie’s to be a true celebration of everything that makes Orcas Island such a special place to live. This is our home. And we want everyone to feel the same,” Anderson says.

Gerties (www.gertieshouse.com) is now open for brunch and lunch 9a-2p, and happy hour 2p-4p Friday through Tuesday at 123 North Beach Road in Eastsound. 360-622-2674. Numerous special events are planned throughout the spring including a birthday brunch celebration to honor Gertie with a special chicken dinner, and a grand opening weekend celebration and rare wine auction on May 13 featuring live music, a ribbon cutting by the Chamber of Commerce, and food specials.